GM, organics can coexist: Farm Bureau

25 Mar, 2014 01:00 AM
The diversity, vitality of our industry would not be possible if not for the success of coexistence

THE biggest farming group in the US has backed moves to promote coexistence between organic and biotech farmers.

American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman dismissed suggestions of widespread legal disputes between the two farming groups as “merely the product of an activist agenda”.

With a landmark legal argument over property rights hanging in the balance between an organic farmer and genetically modified (GM) canola grower in Western Australia, Mr Stallman said earlier this month the Farm Bureau’s members supported the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) decision on an “important” recommendation on biotechnology.

The USDA’s recommendation was contained in a report from the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) which aims to foster communication and collaboration to strengthen coexistence among farmers.

“We are disappointed by the implication from activist groups opposed to modern farming practices that there is widespread disagreement when it comes to coexistence and agricultural biotechnology,” Mr Stallman said.

“Frankly, that assertion does not hold up to scrutiny.”

Mr Stallman said for decades, a hallmark of US agriculture has been the ability of farmers to pursue innovation, utilise diverse cropping systems and respond to consumer demand for high-value, identity-preserved and speciality crops.

“Contrary to the claims by some who have a stake in muddying the waters with overblown charges, the diversity and vitality of our industry would not be possible if not for the past success of coexistence, or as we practice it, just being a good neighbour,” he said.

“Although GMO opponents talk about a deluge of legal disputes between farmers for unintentional gene flow, the AC21 report didn't identify or find evidence of significant legal disputes among farmers related to coexistence or cases of farmers being threatened legally for unintentional gene flow,” he said.

“Any purported 'war' in agriculture does not reflect facts and is merely the product of an activist agenda that does not reflect the best interest of farmers or American agriculture.”

ABCA hits back

Following dissent and division over GM crops continuing in Australia, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) hit back, using the recent annual ‘Science Meets Parliament’ week in Canberra to launch a new publication designed to deliver science-based information on GM crops, “to contribute to a more informed national discussion about agricultural technologies”.

ABCA says the publication, The Official Australian Reference Guide to Agricultural Biotechnology and GM Crops, provides a comprehensive overview of agricultural biotechnology in Australia and answers common questions about GM crops.

“The guide also presents information on coexistence in farming and the on-farm management practices and systems currently in place that maintain the integrity of both GM and non-GM crops,” ABCA said.

In his speech to the science forum, Opposition leader Bill Shorten said, “I believe that every policy challenge Australia currently faces will benefit from a more scientific focus – and more scientific input”.

He said new ideas were needed for farming and food security, “working with cutting edge and productivity-creating technology… (and) new ideas for our environment - shaped by a recognition of the scientific consensus, not some ideological repudiation of it”.

Australia’s organic criteria 'inconsistent'

Commenting on the USDA report, CropLife Australia CEO Matthew Cossey said organic and modern farming systems “do exist side-by-side in Australia, as they do in the rest of the world”.

Mr Cossey said long-standing systems and process were in place to manage coexistence of farming. However, he said, the organic industry’s “self-appointed” zero-tolerance marketing criteria for GM “promotes high-risk farming practices in the hunt for premium prices”.

“It is Australia’s organic criteria that are inconsistent with the rest of the world and threaten Australia’s agricultural harmony that has been enjoyed for so long,” he said.

“Any discussion about agricultural biotechnology and the use of GM crops must be based on science and evidence, not just the loudest voices.

“Australian farmers must continue to have access to new technologies and innovations if they are to continue to provide high-quality and large quantities of food, feed and fibre while responsibly managing their land.”

The ABCA said that in 2013, more than 18 million farmers in 27 countries planted GM crops across 175 million hectares.

“Since their commercialisation 18 years ago, GM crops have been planted across an accumulated 1.6 billion hectares,” ABCA said.

“Despite this widespread and rapid uptake, the technology continues to stimulate considerable community debate.

“ABCA’s vision is that the Australian farming sector can, within a world class regulatory regime, access and adopt this technology to improve food security and deliver a competitive farming sector and sustainable environment.”

The US Wheat Associates (USW) also pointed to the USDA report’s key findings that biotech adoption has reduced insecticide use and enabled the use of less toxic herbicides, while saving farmers time and money.

USW said it highlighted that the USDA’s ERS report did look at trends in glyphosate use and concluded there are issues with weed management.

“An overreliance on glyphosate and a reduction in the diversity of weed management practices adopted by crop producers have contributed to the evolution of glyphosate resistance in 14 weed species and biotypes in the United States,” the report said while recommending best management practices to help mitigate resistance.

GM a 'boon' for Canada

Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) president Gary Stanford has also spoken out in favour of genetic modification (GM) technology, saying it had been a boon for his nation’s farmers.

“GM has worked wonders for us in Canada, it has allowed us to grow better crops with less chemicals.

“I think it has been a good thing for everyone,” the Alberta-based farmer said.

However, at the Global Grains conference last week in Singapore it was also heard that European consumer resistance to GM cropping remained strong.

Don Campbell, head of trading at CBH said oilseed producers in Australia remained aware of the importance of the European market and the support it gave to non-GM product.

Mr Stanford, however, called for greater science in terms of market access.

“We need good science as the basis for predictable trade and for market access for product.”

Ag Institute Australia - representing the interests of agricultural science and natural resource management professionals - would welcome and fully co-operate with an inquiry into the impact of GM crops, president Mike Stephens said.

Mr Stephens made the comment in response to proposals seeking such an inquiry contained in two petitions sponsored by the Safe Food Foundation and Food Democracy Now to be submitted to the Senate.

The petitions arose from the case of WA organic farmer Steve Marsh whose non-GM crop became genetically contaminated from his neighbour’s GM canola crop, claiming it cost him his right to produce GM-free food. It is currently being heard in the WA Supreme Court.

Mr Stephens, who is also a director of a farm business advisory service, emphasised that if such an inquiry was to be held it must be evidence-based, balanced and objective, independent of political influences, and representative of all stakeholders, including scientific, economic and environmental interests. It should also recognise the ‘right of choice’ of farmers to use or not use GM technology.

“Overseas evidence of the widespread farmer adoption of GM crops shows that GM technology is here to stay”, Mr Stephens says, “but those food producers who opt out have the right to be protected from crop contamination.”

- with Gregor Heard

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


25/03/2014 6:04:29 AM

Well it looks like we've come full circle. So far the loudest voice of GM is getting the publicity. But the same question still remains----how to keep the " polluted " product contained ? The next question we must ask ourselves is , WHY are we going up this path ? Is it being asked for by growers? Or being forced on us by big business ? The buyers are certainly not asking for GM products. This backward step by the proponents is a smoke screen to get wide spread establishment of GM because once it is out there, GAME OVER. The world has plenty of ability to grow food WITHOUT GM.
25/03/2014 6:10:24 AM

Quote----- "The diversity, vitality of our industry would not be possible if not for the success of coexistence." This is not about coexistence. It is about bully big brother saying " Do it my way or I'll flatten you"
25/03/2014 7:02:07 AM

Of course that would be the conclusion and recommendation in the US, a market heavily dominated by the corporates who seek to benefit from GMO. Ask the question in the EU and you'll receive a very different response. Keep Australia clean and green and chemical free. It will keep our food products among the most highly valued in the world.
25/03/2014 7:48:29 AM

The organic industry should be given the boot, Why? Because never has the conventional farming sector imposed anything on organic operators. However the organic guys are always trying to ban this or that in the conventional system. The organic guys are just not neighbourly citizens and have earnt the disdain of the conventional farmers.
25/03/2014 9:35:37 AM

The biggest threat to the GM Industry is the organic sector. Why? Because it stands for everything the GM sector isn't, and they can't stand it. So their best thing to do is water it down to the point of uselessness and then see it disappear. This is bullying tactics at its worse, and we cannot allow blatant contamination to be ever made acceptable.
25/03/2014 1:38:27 PM

Jeffito, conventional farmers are not GM farmers - yet unless they are all forced to be by industries that only want us to farm and consume patented crops.
Robert Wager
26/03/2014 2:19:51 AM

"There is no validated evidence that GM crops have greater adverse impact on health and the environment than any other technology used in plant breeding. There is compelling evidence that GM crops can contribute to sustainable development goals with benefits to farmers, consumers, the environment and the economy." (2013) European National Academies of Science report-Planting the Future
John Newton
26/03/2014 4:53:24 AM

Interesting development in the GM industry. Dow – the other Monsanto – has just been granted the right to use 2,4-d instead of glyphosate in it herbicide ready crops. Why? Well as any farmer will tell you, use a herbicide too much, and the weeds develop resistance. Read all about it.And ask yourself – where will it end? rew-kimbrell/dow-chemical-agent-o range-crops_b_4810311.html
26/03/2014 9:11:45 AM

Michelle, in my book "conventional farmers" do include all those that can and in many cases, except in SA and Tas, do choose to use GM when with careful consideration, they find it fits and is profitable in their farming systems. These are the farmers that constantly get harrassed by the minority fringe, including some organic farmers who do have "blood on their hands" due to public Salmonella etc poisoning events than any farmer that grows GM crops in the system where extensive use in the market over many years now has caused NO adverse health effects except mental delusion among the fringe.
26/03/2014 9:43:22 AM

Jeffito my friend you are ignoring facts. The fact that it is impossibe to keep GM within bounds is central to the argument. We all started out as organic farmers. We planted and grew / ate seeds. Then someone " discovered " animal manure. The rest is history. The buyers do not want GM. The organic industry can't keep up with demand. My local Woolworths is expanding it's organic section each week. The organic industry is not imposing anything on anyone. It is the other way round. Stop and think.
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